If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants (Isaac Newton)
Religion-inspired violence and terrorism are once again rocking our world (in Paris), showing the folly, incompetence and dishonesty of our politicians/administrators and the overall ruling bureaucrats in the European Union (EU). Rather than defend our safety and security, they:
- have run down our ‘hard’ defences (the police and armed forces being prime examples, perhaps in preparation for an EU police and army)
- have ignored the rising danger within our borders, even exacerbated it through indifference and ideological blindness (such as open borders, political correctness and meddling in the fights of others), and
- are in denial about the mess we find ourselves in.
Grand gestures (such as aerial bombing of sand dunes or empty buildings), platitudes and empty rhetoric cannot conceal that it takes years to build the necessary, trained, experienced and effective resources to combat violent subversion of civilised society, even if there were a coherent, comprehensive and achievable strategy in place. More importantly, whilst international co-operation is obviously needed, control and resourcing needs to be locally organised (nationally, not run by the EU) if the necessary levels of motivation, community integration, public trust and effectiveness are to be achieved.
Yet nobody in power seems to be asking, let alone answering vital questions such as:
“What does victory look like and how do we get there?”
Or “Why is a murderous, introspective, nihilist, Medieval ideology attractive to so many in the midst of the most refined, sophisticated and accomplished civilisation ever (generally called ‘Western Civilisation’)?”
Or “Could backgrounds, often found amongst the most violent, of drug abuse, petty crime and poor education be significant?”
Having failed to dominate the battleground of ideas, which we should be able to do easily given our inspiring heritage, culture and achievements (from art to zoology), we will have to contest a bloodier battle for years to come, which we may actually lose (given the incompetence and posturing so far by our rulers), and that will, in any case, extract a heavy price. Why have we, or rather our leaders and cultural icons, also failed to uphold our country’s “soft” yet surely important defences against fanatical brainwashing and where it leads?
Cultural amnesia, ignorance and destruction of unique national heritage (like a fish) rots from the head down. Our prime minister appears to know or care little of such gems as Magna Carta, and Mr. Blair’s “Cool Britannia” included senseless destruction of traditions that actually worked to protect us. The EU is happy to homogenise us into its EU super state nightmare regardless of national history or culture. Cultural relativism (aka multi-culturalism or diversity), where the most primitive are treated as equal to the most refined, makes us vulnerable to a debasement to the lowest level; the only half-hearted defence being ‘hate speech’ laws et al.
Celebrations that should showcase our great accomplishments, such as the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, or the Dome, fail to recognise the long stream of giants (often from less than exalted backgrounds) who have contributed to our wellbeing. Instead vacuous celebrity pop culture and shopping are pushed onto us (especially the younger generation) and leave a largely blank intellectual canvass not a shield against indoctrination, nor does it offer us inspiration for personal improvement and societal wellbeing.
Primitive religion or ideology, along with self-righteous arrogance and easy hijacking for evil intent, surely contains within it the seeds of its own nemesis. Religion after all fills the unknown with explanations based on belief. When confronted with the light of current knowledge and invention (particularly in science, technology, philosophy and ethics) either it must seek an enlightened accommodation and more sophisticated interpretation or, more usual in the past, turn inward and try to ignore or forcefully suppress change and progress. Thus thoughtful and civilising knowledge levels need lifting (through education amongst adherents) before they are closed off by ignorant fanaticism. Such knowledge needs to consider religious ethical principles, starting with the Golden Rule of Reciprocity, and the mainstream secular (outside) world of Western Civilisation at its best.
Within the Japanese quality movement, as quality guru Kaoru Ishikawa noted, is the saying “Quality begins and ends with education”. A somewhat Confucian extension (from The Great Learning in The Analects) is that quality of life begins and ends with education. This is not Mr. Blair’s view (education, education, education equals spend, spend, spend and achieve less), but the deeper recognition that education and knowledge, understanding and analysis, aesthetic appreciation and preservation, improvement and innovation, opportunity and fulfilment, hope, wisdom and tolerance are all connected. Many giants from our history and heritage have much we (both people of and not of religion) and the next generation can gain knowledge from; the pen indeed can be mightier than the sword and is certainly more cost effective, compassionate, socially cohesive and enjoyable. Such knowledge also undermines alienation and facilitates integration.
We need to make fashionable a thirst (or curiosity) for sophistication and refinement arising through wide-ranging learning; learned wisdom is bliss and it is folly to be ignorant, so, for starters, we could rediscover:
- Alex de Tocqueville (French historian)
- William Shakespeare
- Jane Austen
- John Locke (political theorist)
- Thomas Jefferson (a Founding Father of the USA)
- John Wycliffe (biblical scholar) and his followers (the Lollards)
- William of Ockham (philosopher)
- William Byrd (composer)
- Turner (artist)
- various poets from Chaucer to Wordsworth,
- George Stephenson (engineer)
- Michael Faraday (scientist)
- Florence Nightingale (founder of modern nursing)
- Emily Hobhouse (welfare campaigner)
- Elizabeth Fry (social reformer), and
- RJ Mitchell (aircraft designer).
Alex de Tocqueville writing in 1835 in Democracy in America noted that even in remote pioneer cabins was a thirst for the treasures of English literature. He had some other observations on social development and democracy, and even the rise of a benign tyranny of the welfare state. William of Ockham set in motion our empiricism, which in turn accelerated the development of science, philosophy and political thought. And so an almost inexhaustible list of fascination, example and life-changing inspiration continues in this pool of greatness.
The sheer magic of subtle discovery, which education brings, can be shared and enjoyed across all generations, backgrounds and abilities, leaving the desire to acquire more knowledge and companionship, to bring together a mutual respect, understanding and wisdom, to enrich everyone.
So will “soft” defence actually work, as an adjunct to “hard” defence of proper security, rigorous rule of (UK) law and effective border control, to forestall home grown and imported violent fanaticism? Perhaps the most succinct answer is within the Old Testament of the Bible in Proverbs “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding” and, repeated almost unchanged at the end of the last verse of the patriotic hymn I Vow to Thee my Country, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness (gentleness), and all her paths are peace.”